During the launch of the Malasakit Center in Taguig-Pateros District Hospital, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go renewed his call for the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos that will be responsible for the promotion of welfare and protection of rights of Filipino migrant workers and other overseas Filipinos amid escalating tensions in the Middle East.
The creation of the department is one of Go’s campaign promises during the May 2019 elections.
“Ako nanawagan sa mga kasamahan ko sa Senado at sa liderato sa Congress na sana ay ipasa na ang ‘Department of Overseas Filipino Workers’,” Go said during an ambush interview on Wednesday, January 8.
“Huwag na po nating hintayin na magkaroon pa ng crisis o may mapatay ulit na OFW,” he added, referring to the murder of Jeanelyn Villavende in Kuwait. The Pinay domestic helper was allegedly killed by her employers.
“Tungkulin ng ating pamahalaan na pangalagaan ang kapakanan ng ating mamamayan na nasa abroad. Dapat nating gawin ang lahat di lamang para makamit ang hustisya para kay Jeanelyn Villavende. We should make sure that all Filipinos in distress are given timely assistance and that measures are also undertaken to prevent abuse,” said Go.
“A life for a life. Dapat maximum o death penalty if found guilty (ang suspect). We lost the life of a Filipino. Those who took life, their life must be taken, Go added, emphasizing that justice must be served for the death of Villavende.
Villavende’s remains were repatriated today even as the government assured it will conduct follow through investigations.
Meanwhile, tensions are currently high in the Middle East region after an American air strike near Baghdad’s international airport in Iraq killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. This prompted Iran to launch counter missile attacks on American bases in Iraq Wednesday.
Under his proposed Senate Bill (SB) 202 or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2019, Go said that the Philippine government will no longer have any confusion as to which representative to send to other countries in times of crisis or issues involving Filipino workers as it will put all OFW affairs under one umbrella department.
The bill aims to put certain government agencies dealing with the OFWs under one umbrella. These will address certain issues, such as the lack of coordination among offices, hence the need to put them together under one roof and to put an end to the practice of finger-pointing among agencies concerned with OFW affairs; immediate legal assistance to OFWs in distress; lack of full migration cycle approach in promoting migrant’s rights from pre-employment, onsite and reintegration services; and lack of shared database system that contains all information of all OFWs to aid in tracking their status and fast track delivery of assistance to distressed workers. Services and information are scattered throughout several offices, causing delays in reaction time.
“Katulad ngayon, pinadala si Sec. Roy Cimatu, tapos iba pa work ni Sec. Locsin at Sec. Bello. If mayroon na tayong department for OFWs, isa na lang ipapadala natin dun, iisa na lang ang lalapitan at iisa na lang ang makikipag coordinate,” he said.
According to the senator, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Secretaries Roy Cimatu of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and former special envoy to the Middle East, Teodoro Locsin of Foreign Affairs and Silvestre Bello III of Labor and Employment to coordinate with their counterparts abroad to ensure the safety of OFWs and all Filipinos residing in the Middle East.
“Hangad natin ang security and stability sa Middle East. Kasama tayo ng international community in calling for deescalation of tensions,” said Go.
Go also said that President Duterte has also instructed the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to utilize all their resources to ensure the immediate repatriation of all Filipinos in the Middle East amid the rising tensions.
“As soon as possible, ang utos ng Pangulo ay to ensure the safety of every Filipino na maaring maapektuhan sa Middle East,” he said when asked on the time frame of the government as far as the repatriation of OFWs is concerned.
In a memorandum dated January 7 and addressed to the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Labor and Employment, National Defense, Environment and Natural Resources, Interior and Local Government, and Transportation, and the National Security Council, the President directed the creation of a committee to oversee the repatriation of Filipinos from the Middle East. It shall be chaired by the Defense Secretary with the National Security Adviser as the Vice Chair and the rest of the earlier mentioned departments as members.
Citing government records, Go said that there are around 1,600 Filipinos living in Iran, including 400 who are married to Iranian citizens.